Principal Cast : Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, Dana Kaminski, Fiona Shaw, Mojo Nixon, John Fifer, Francesca P Roberts, Gianni Russo, Don Lake, Lance Henriksen.
Synopsis: Two Brooklyn plumbers, Mario and Luigi, must travel to another dimension to rescue a princess from the evil dictator King Koopa and stop him from taking over the world.
Despite being savaged by critics and mauled by fans of the popular Nintendo game series upon which it is based, Super Mario Bros isn’t actually as bad as you’ve been led to believe. It’s not great, make no mistake, and is one of those rare breeds of film that can’t work out whether it’s for kids or adults, but it’s definitely watchable, something years of terrible reviews had led me to believe it wasn’t. Mired in production difficulties – including a legion of writers working on the script (most of whom are not credited) and several directors being fired – Super Mario Bros‘ troubled production is evident in the uneven tone and whiplash narrative direction provided by the finished film, although in my opinion this makes the outcome all the more interesting. While elements of the popular game franchise are in place, many of them appear to have been warped beyond recognition, to the point where had the film not actually been titled Super Mario Bros and had been marketed as some kind of whacky adventure fantasy, it may have been better received by audiences of the day.
Led by a wonderful Bob Hoskins as Mario, and ably supported by an enthusiastic John Leguizamo as the ubiquitous Luigi, the film transports regulation New York City plumbers into the amazing world of Dinohattan, a remnant of a meteor strike millions of years prior that resulted in the creation of an alternative dimension. The pair follow captured princess Daisy (A cute-as-a-button Samantha Mathis) into the clutches of the dastardly King Koopa (Dennis Hopper on an absolute tear, basically the same role as he played in both Speed and Waterworld), while henchmen Iggy (Fisher Stevens) and Spike (Richard Edson) search for a fragment of the meteorite in order to combine both dimensions together. Throw in an early Fiona Shaw appearance (Dudley Dursley’s odious mother from the Harry Potter franchise) and a brief cameo from Aliens’ Lance Henriksen, and Super Mario Bros has plenty working in its favour in terms of acting talent. Superb VFX and production design by both Patrick Tatopolous (Independence Day) and David Snyder (Blade Runner), a fabulously over-orchestrated score from Alan Silvestri, terrific comic-book-movie-esque cinematography from an on-form Dean Semler (Dances With Wolves) and editorial work by industry legend Mark Goldblatt (RoboCop, Terminator 2) ensured the behind-the-camera work was first rate, even if the overall direction of the film, from debutant feature helmers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, is listless and a touch too dark for the property.
Where Super Mario Bros falls flat is in its approach to the material. With competing ideas behind the script, some wanting a lighter, more comedic approach and the directors wanting an edgier, darker, ’89 Batman flavour to the movie, the seams between this dichotomy becomes all too obvious, and all to painful, the moment Mario and Luigi find themselves in Dinohattan – a city, I might add, which repurposes the World Trade Center’s twin towers into a nightmarish neo-gothic cathedral of terror – resulting in a film that’s overall confused about what it wants to be. Way too nihilistic for kids (the property’s more obvious demographic), and far too lightweight for adults in terms of the insatiable comedic streak throughout, Super Mario Bros is still a thoroughly enjoyable movie in and of itself, that would have been better as a stand-alone creation rather than shoehorning in Mario and Luigi. A confusing mess, the film is still worth a look and has diversionary entertainment value.